And then David Cameron has to go and spoil it all by telling porkies about what his government is doing to our national debt. The party election broadcast the Conservatives have just released is so astonishingly dishonest that it really would have disgraced Gordon Brown. In it, the Prime Minister tells an outright – how to put it? – untruth. He says:-
“So though this government has had to make some difficult decisions, we are making progress. We’re paying down Britain’s debts.”
David Cameron’s policy is to increase Britain’s debt by 60 per cent, more than any European country. To increase it more over five years than Labour did over 13 years. Just yesterday, we learned the national debt had hit £1,111 billion and it’s heading to £1,400 billion.
By no stretch of the English language can this be described as “paying down Britain’s debts.” What Cameron said is not an exaggeration. It’s a straight falsehood, and one that demeans his office. He has previously used different language, saying that he is “dealing with the debt”. The below graph says it all:
As Cameron says in his party political broadcast, he’s only half way through his term of office. So what progress does he intend to make on national debt in the remainder of his parliament? His deputy, Nick Clegg, has previously boasted that his government is “wiping the slate clean of debt”. An utterly misleading analogy. Here are the Treasury’s published plans:
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have an agreed strategy: that it is not important to tell the truth about how much debt their government is saddling voters with. That a little deception is no bad thing.
Here is the full Conservative Party election broadcast. It really is quite shameful. Financiers are, quite literally, prosecuted for this kind of thing.
As you can see, people are asked to guess how much the deficit is going down by. They guess low figures – 2 per cent, etc – and are then told that it’s actually 25 per cent. Then they say how impressed they are with the Tories. Have you spotted the trick? No normal person knows what “deficit” means, nor should they. It’s a Westminster wonk word, not even used in business. Most people will think “deficit” means “government debt”. Every time a proper poll is conducted about public perceptions about debt, it exposes the staggering extent to which people have been successfully misled. Last month, ITV – the channel the Tories chose to make this broadcast – released a poll showing just 6 per cent of the public realise that the national debt is rising. Why might this be? Is it because they’re all thick? Or is it because the Cabinet – even the Prime Minister himself – keep telling them that it’s falling?
This is not a nerdy footnote, not the same as – say – people not knowing the direction of the environmental policy. Cameron won’t be paying this debt back – the voters will. Their children and grandchildren will. I’d argue that ministers really do have a moral duty to be honest with the people who will be repaying the debts that ministers are running up. The Prime Minister has a greater duty than anyone. When he claimed debt was falling on an ITV sofa recently, you might have put it down to a slip of the tongue. But on a carefully-scripted party election broadcast?
I will ask 10 Downing St and the office of Grant Shapps how they reconcile the Prime Minister’s statement with what is actually happening to our national debt. I’ll let you know what they say.
PS: My thanks to the various people on Twitter who alerted me to this broadcast. Gordon Brown used to take the view that journalists protest the first few times a lie is mentioned, and then give up. Also newspapers never print graphs like this, so the politician can never be found out. The press has a blind spot when you lie with figures, Brown realised. Newspapers know few readers will read a column on technical gobbledegook. If you make your lie boring or technical enough, they you’ll have no real trouble. Lying with numbers was the missing chapter in Peter Oborne’s superb The Rise of Political Lying.
But in the social media era, annoying nerdy low life journalists like yours truly – tipped off by Twitter-enabled voters – have infinite energy (and space) to document every attempt by ministers to mislead. We now have toys to play with: audio, video, graphs etc. I had really hoped that, when Cameron got in, such lie-detecting tools would not be necessary.